On Tuesday afternoon, toward the end of my live feed telling ghost stories, we started chatting about ghost trains. Terrie S. asked, “Do you think there could be haunted trains or just a ghost driving them? A few years ago, just as we went to bed, there was a train that roared right outside our bedroom window, along with the whistle. It rattled the windows. The nearest track is over 20 miles away. We never figured it out. Yesterday afternoon, we heard the train whistle again, but not as close, but closer than 20 miles.”
Then Kitty added, “I grew up in a small town that had a “new” set of tracks, and then there were the remains of an old line that ran through before the town had a crazy fire. Growing up, I lived near the new tracks. Couple times a week you could hear the train, feel it rumbling through, but the arms didn’t come down and there was never a train there. It was crazy! Lived in an apartment right next to the new tracks as an adult for a bit, could still hear the train, but it was never when there was an actual train coming through.”
Then Terri B. added, “There is a small town in KY called Glendale. There’s a train that runs down the middle of town. There’s no barrier or gate as the train passes, so lots of folks have been accidentally killed. The stores nearby hear people yelling for help in the early mornings. One of the restaurants stopped serving breakfast because of it.”
We live out in the country and we often hear the mournful wail of the train’s horn in the distance. For me, it’s always been a pleasant, comforting sound. I hadn’t even considered ghost trains – until now.
Back in August of 1882, a train engineer had been interviewed by the Atchison Daily Globe. But the story he told would send a shiver down the spines of the paper’s readers. It seems this engineer was on a run late at night when he saw an engine coming around the curve. But this was no normal train, this was a phantom engine. The engineer of this ghost train stuck his head out the window and looked into the eyes of the engineer. The engineer felt his body grow cold; he knew that engineer. It was none other than Brit Craft, one of the best and most respected train engineers in Kansas and Missouri. The only problem was, Brit Craft had died a few weeks earlier, sacrificing his life to save the lives of his passengers.
Running his train on a late summer night, Craft came around the bend to discover that the bridge up ahead was on fire. It was too late to stop the train before they reached the bridge, so Craft pushed full-stop on the brakes and was able to stop the train with only the engine on the burning bridge. He knew that he would not survive the fire, but his passengers were able to escape.
Still today, on warm summer nights, when the wind blows just right, you can still hear the phantom train rounding the bend as the train’s whistle mourns its engineer’s demise.
The folks at the Altoona Railroad Museum believe in ghosts because they have to. On the website, Pennsylvania Mountains Of Attractions, they state that the stories of the ghost hauntings are so numerous, it’s hard to single out which are the most interesting. This is from their site: “The testimonies of many of the Altoona Railroaders Memorial Museums employees and visitors leave no doubt there have been many ghost sightings in the museum.
Many of these ghost haunting testimonies are documented by The Ghost Research Foundation and Central Pennsylvania’s Paranormal Investigators led by Scott Crownover and Patty Wilsom.
The building that houses the museum is over 120 years old. It was once the infirmary and police headquarters for the Pennsylvania Railroad. Many believe this is why the Altoona Railroad Museum’s ghost hauntings are so common.
Reports of ghost sightings and hauntings in the building and around the site have been reported from not only the many visitors to the museum but also: construction crews, office staff, gift shop employees, ticket sales and monitor cameras, maintenance crews, and various directors of the museum.
An employee at the gift shop told me she and several visitors have seen a spirit-like image, known by the name of Frank, climbing over the train engine (located in the main lobby) then vanish over the side. Frank is the most popular ghost talked about at the Altoona Railroad Museum but he’s certainly not the only one.
In the 1990s the Altoona Railroad Museum’s former finance director got on the elevator on the 4th floor. This floor is normally closed to the public. To access the 4th floor, you have to have a special key to insert in the elevator.
As the director entered the elevator, he noticed a ghostly man standing in the rear of the elevator, facing the back wall. The doors closed and this ghostly man turned from the waist and looked over his shoulder at the director. Suddenly the ghost shimmered and faded up into the ceiling of the elevator and vanished.
A few weeks later once the finance director got his bearings of seeing the elevator ghost. He took a good look at the picture displayed on the first floor of the museum; he recognized the ghostly man he saw in the elevator. He was the same dark-haired man in the center of the photo, namely Frank. The director absolutely refused to get on the elevator again.”
On August 27, 1891, at 2 o’clock in the morning, one of the worst train wrecks in North Carolina occurred. The crash was at the Bostian Bridge, which was two miles west of Statesville, North Carolina.
This is the report from “The Landmark Statesville” newspaper: “At that hour west-bound passenger train, No. 9, which had passed Statesville on time at 1:52 a.m., was hurled from the top of the bridge a distance of 60 to 75 feet, the engine, tender, baggage and second class car, the first-class coach, the Pullman sleeper car “Saluda” and the private car of Superintendent R. R. BRIDGERS, all going overboard. The bridge was swept clear of iron from end to end.
GEORGE BOWLEY, traveling for the Atlanta Rubber Company, and one or two other passengers who made their way from the car alive, came on foot to town and gave the news of the accident. In a little while the town was aroused, citizens in vehicles began hastening to the scene and the work of rescue began. Some of the passengers had crawled from the car and were perched, dazed, on their tops. Axes were put to work and the cars cut open, and so many of the passengers as could be found were dragged out — some dead, some alive.
By dawn great crowds of people were on the ground and nothing was left undone. The dead and wounded were brought to town — the wounded disposed of at the hotels and private houses, the dead laid side by side on the floor of the Farmers’ Tobacco Warehouse, and the bodies tagged. How many were killed or drowned it is yet impossible to learn. Nineteen dead bodies had been taken out up to 10 o’clock, but it appears probable that others are yet in the water under the cars. Twenty-five is probably not an overestimate of the number dead.”
But the story didn’t end in 1891.
Fifty years later, very early in the morning of August 27, 1941, a woman was waiting along the road that ran beside the railroad tracks near Statesville. Her husband had gone to get help after their car had a flat tire.
The woman heard a train whistle in the distance. A headlight appeared down the tracks, sweeping through the trees as the engine approached. The woman noticed the huge bridge in front of the train. As the engine began to cross it, she heard a horrible crash. She saw the train plunge off the bridge, its old-fashioned wooden passenger cars splintering into pieces. They piled into a jagged mound below.
The woman could hear the screams and groans of wounded people. She ran across the road and through a field to the side of the creek. Up close, the sight was even more terrible. The engine, its tender (the car attached to the engine carrying its water and coal), and passenger cars formed a twisted mass of wreckage being flooded by the waters of Third Creek.
Hearing a car pull up on the road behind her, the woman ran back across the field, screaming that a terrible train wreck had just happened. Her husband was in the car with a stranger, the man who owned the country store just down the road. The three of them headed back across the field and looked down into the quiet waters of Third Creek. No wreck was there.
Of course, the men thought that the woman had fallen asleep and dreamed up the whole thing. But when they continued their trip, she made her husband stop by the Statesville train station to find out if there had been a wreck. When the couple asked at the ticket window, the station agent looked up from his work. “Funny you should ask,” he said. “There was no wreck on the railroad last night. But, fifty years ago today, there was a horrible wreck out there at Bostian’s Bridge.” As he said this, the woman screamed and fainted. She knew that she had seen a ghost train.
Sixty-nine years later, the bridge claimed another life. A group of twelve amateur ghost hunters gathered at the bridge hoping to catch a glimpse of the ghost train. Unfortunately, a real train came down the tracks at 2:45 a.m. The ghost hunters thought they were seeing the ghost train and didn’t get off the bridge as quickly as they should have. One of the ghost hunters died at the scene and two others were injured.
Our final story is about the science-fiction writer, Phillip K. Dick. If you’re not into reading science fiction, you might know Mr. Dick from his works that were turned into films – Blade Runner, Total Recall, Minority Report, and The Adjustment Bureau. When he was living in Point Reyes Station, California, he claimed to hear the phantom cry of a train as he tried to sleep. But there were no trains near Point Reyes Station. Years before, the railroad had ceased functioning in that area. However, Dick’s account did match up with a local ghost story that told of an angry engineer who haunted the old railroad line that once crisscrossed through Point Reyes Station. It is said the engineer once drove his train through the night trying to find the man who wronged his daughter. The wail of his whistle woke the sleepy community. Townsfolk said that the train’s whistle still pierces the night during the engineer’s vengeful run. Many witnesses have stepped forward to say that they too have heard and seen the ghost train. Phillip K. Dick, one of the world’s most lauded science fiction writers, was just one of these lucky, or—depending on how much you value your sleep —unlucky witnesses.
Toot – toot!!!
Photo courtesy of Josh Bailey – [email protected]